I draw from a range of different therapeutic approaches, including cognitive behavioural therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and humanistic therapy. I particularly focus on approaches that are evidence-based, and client-centred. I believe this gives us the best chance of success at reaching your therapeutic goals.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
I mainly base my work on the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach developed by Aaron Beck. CBT’s main assumption is that, as we develop, we start thinking about ourselves, the world, and others in certain ways. These thinking styles can be hard to change and sometimes they make our life difficult. In any given situation we can have numerous thoughts going through our mind very quickly. Sometimes those thoughts can lead to maladaptive behaviours.
It’s hard to notice these thoughts, which makes it hard to change them. CBT helps you to learn the habit of noticing your thoughts, and how they make you feel, and behave. Like any habit — whether it’s exercise or flossing your teeth —it takes time to learn, and to stick with. Taking care of your psychological health is a mental and intellectual habit, and it takes time and work for your brain to learn how to do it, especially if it requires changing some existing unhelpful habits.
We may conduct experiments designed to test your predictions about how you will react to a situation against how you react in reality (these tests are known in CBT as behavioural experiments). We might try these experiments in the session, or I might ask you to try something out in your daily life. This practice helps you to collect more data which then allows your brain to make more accurate predictions.
CBT puts a lot of emphasis on the thinking patterns that trigger our reactions. It doesn’t mean, however, that CBT doesn’t pay attention to emotions, rather it looks at connections and between our thoughts, emotions and behavioural responses. Another important thing, which is fairly specific to the CBT approach, is that it’s educational. CBT not only teaches you techniques that you can continue to use outside of the therapy office, it also helps you to understand the nature of your mental states.
Everyone’s experiences of the world are different. People can go through similar situations, but can have very different emotional reactions. CBT might be a good approach for some people, but it may not work as effectively with others. And for any given client it might not be always helpful to stick to one approach. That’s why I use an eclectic approach, combining techniques from CBT with compassion-focused therapy (CFT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and mindfulness techniques, and psychodynamic and humanistic approaches. However, given CBT’s stronger evidence base, and its focus on current behaviours (as opposed to past experiences), I use these other approaches more sparingly.
The psychodynamic school of therapy emphasises the influence of the early stages of our development on our mental condition. It tries to uncover unconscious motivations that make us behave as we do. CBT itself was born out of a psychodynamic approach, as it also pays attention to thoughts that we’re not necessarily conscious of.
The father of psychodynamics was Sigmund Freud. I do not endorse his theory of psychoanalysis and so not use it in my work. Psychoanalysis has a strong focus on early childhood experiences, and holds that our present and future are almost exclusively determined by these experiences. While I think that understanding past experiences may be useful to determining the cause of why we think and act the way we do, I don’t think that making the past a central focus of our therapy is a productive way to help us become stronger now and into the future.
That said, I believe that in certain cases gaining an understanding of your past experiences can be powerful, and with that understanding it may be possible to release some mental tension. If it’s helpful, I can teach you more about developmental psychology, and explain how certain early experiences might have influenced your life and the way you respond to certain situations. But it’s never going to be the aim or end point of our therapy. Instead, the aim of my therapy is to focus on your current experiences and help you move forward as a healthier and happier human.
Humanistic therapy focuses on human potential, and the plasticity of our brain and its ability to change and develop. The humanistic school provides good general principles for conducting therapy sessions, many of which are based on person-centered therapy, which was developed by Carl Rogers.
The humanistic approach stresses the importance of the client making an active decision to attend therapy, as well as choosing the specific problems to work through in sessions. A therapy session should be a safe space where you feel comfortable, where you can learn, and where you can try doing things that are scary in a controlled setting.